Updated: March 12, 2021 8:16:31 am
The internet has a need for speed. And where there’s need, there’s leverage. The Russian government, in its battle with Twitter and other foreign social media entities, has decided to exploit this weakness. Roskomnadzor, the country’s media watchdog, has announced that it will slow down the speeds at which Twitter is available to users in the country — a roundabout, and effective, form of censorship. The logic is simple enough: Even the most committed anti-government activist, spoiled by high-speed internet, will lack the patience to watch a screen load slowly, a throwback to the dial-up era.
Roskomnadzor’s censorship is roundabout in more ways than one. The official reason for the enforced “slowdown” is Twitter’s failure to delete posts related to drugs, suicides and pornography. Vladimir Putin has also brought up an issue that has a particular international resonance at the moment: Social media companies are increasingly being seen as undermining the sovereign authority of nation-states. More likely, though, is the fact that the internet has been used extensively by anti-Putin politicians like Alexei Navalny and their supporters. For example, during the massive protests against Navalny’s arrest upon his return to Russia in January — after surviving an assassination attempt via poison — Roskomnadzor warned social media companies that they would be fined. But when dealing with billion-dollar international companies, a slowdown is more effective than a one-time fine.
Russia, the inheritor of the Soviet state, certainly knows its way around controlling information. Remember, its leader is a former KGB member and it’s no surprise that it found a loophole — between outright “shutdowns”, so favoured in India, and the painful task of negotiating legislation to control the internet. But there is a possible spoke in the wheel. Used to shutdowns, patchy electricity and just slow and intermittent internet, Russians, like Indians, could sail through the slowdown.
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